Policy Development Workshop – 21st Century Assessment

On 15 October AQA held the third and final policy development workshop as part of our major project The future of assessment: 2025 and beyond. The event, chaired by AQA’s Head of GQD Business Development Marc Booker, was based on the theme of this event was ‘21st Century Assessment’, discussing the role technology could play in assessment in the future.


This theme aimed to acknowledge that although technology has altered a significant proportion of our everyday lives, its potential in terms of assessment and its ability to transform the way we assess knowledge and skills, so far remains largely unknown. We wanted our speakers and guests to explore how technology could allow us to improve the reliability and validity of assessment, and at the same time make assessments more relevant for the modern world.

Our first speaker was Professor Angela McFarlane, Chief Executive and Registrar of The College of Teachers. She spoke about the “digital generation” of young people who now spend more time online than they do watching TV. She posed some questions and challenges for our attendees to consider, such as whether or not teachers were thought of as “reliable custodians of high stakes assessment”, and talked about the idea of children often having to “power down” when they came to school.

Our second speaker was Lisa Gray, who is Assessment and Feedback Programme Manager at Jisc, a charity which champions the use of digital technologies in education and research. She explained some of the research surrounding assessment and technology, including the widespread recognition that traditional assessments have not been adequately preparing students for the world of work. She discussed the idea of “feed forward” rather than feedback, enabling learners to progress further, and finished by emphasising the role technology-enhanced assessment can play in improving the employability prospects of young people.

Following the speakers, the guests discussed some of the points raised by Angela and Lisa, and contributed some of their own thoughts about the topic. A main theme which emerged was the question of the gap between what traditional exams can reasonably assess, compared to the things industry, commerce, or universities would like to see in applicants. There also needs to be a degree of flexibility, as different destinations for students will require different skills. Additionally, there were comments regarding the purpose of assessment – if taken as part of the accountability regime, is there a way in which we can use technology to overcome the pressure placed on schools, teachers, and students and to create a new way of holding schools accountable?

Our audience, which was made up of professionals and practitioners from across the education and skills sectors, split into two groups and were joined by our speakers for smaller, more focused discussions. We chose two key areas – 2025 workforce skills, and the purpose of using technology-enhanced assessment.

One of the main conclusions reached by both groups was that increasingly, the skills which are required by employers or universities are not necessarily summative skills, and therefore cannot be measured or assessed by traditional summative exams. The process of developing these skills is ongoing, and there should be a form of assessment which reflects that; something which technology seems capable of doing. Our groups were also in agreement over the need for technology to enable assessment across the full breadth of the curriculum – with some subject specific assessment such as science practicals, and some more generic skills such as collaborative group work. Additionally there were several comments that so far, most of the technology used in education and assessment has been repurposed from other things. There are strong arguments to develop new technologies specifically for the purpose of assessing in schools. Finally, we closed by discussing the need for a systematic change regarding the nature of schools, and the teacher-student relationship, in order to truly embed technology within the assessment system. .

This was the final workshop in our series of three – read about our two previous workshops; Balancing assessment and accountability and Assessment for the real world. This marks the end of phase 2 of The future of assessment: 2025 and beyond. There will be further updates about the next stage of the project later this year, but if you would like further information or would like to comment about the project so far, please email kzsmith@aqa.org.uk.

Our thanks go to our speakers and guests who helped contribute to such an interesting discussion.

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